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Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity, Banff (Alberta), CANADA
16-19 April, 2020.

Keynote Addresses:
Dr. Sarah de Leeuw (University of Northern British Columbia)
Dr. Sander L. Gilman (Emory University)

There is a consensual desire for the disciplines of health humanities and the literary arts to work together for the betterment of all. But a mere look at their parallel evolution over the past decades reveals they are far from readily compatible. To this day, initiatives for contact between health humanities and the more established fields of literary studies have come almost exclusively from the medical profession. Despite good intentions and undeniable results, this can lead to one-sided dialogues as well as to the instrumentalization and oversimplification of literary examples and concepts. The influential discipline of narrative medicine, in the words of its founder Rita Charon at the time of its establishment, made no secret that the nature of its practice was “clinical”. Furthermore, it defined its goal as a practice of medicine “with […] the narrative skills of recognizing, absorbing, interpreting, and being moved by the stories of illness.” The assumption behind such a skill-set acquisition being that “the reader of a novel or the witness of a drama […] naturally do all these things seamlessly.” (Charon 2006) Writers, as well as scholars and students in literary studies, philosophy, cultural studies and critical theory, to name but a few fields, would no doubt have manifold things to say to temper such seamlessness.

But this is in no way a univocal issue, nor is it limited to narrative medicine. To this day there has been scarce interest in literary studies for interdisciplinary reflection on personal and social discourses pertaining to health, medicine, nursing, and the interdisciplinary implications of health humanities. As a direct consequence, there is a significant lack in scholarly tools allowing for the analysis and assessment of the undeniably growing production and popularity of literature focusing on the fate of the medicalized body and its impact on contemporary living.
So far, modern medical practices and knowledges conceived as disciplinary concentrations, in the original Foucaldian sense with their conceptual extrapolations of biopower and biopolitics, have drawn keen and disproportionate interest in critical discourses of literature and the body politics in (mostly) Anglo-Saxon academia over the past decades. Despite their merits and undeniable influence, they do not intersect with discourses on health and the biomedical body in such a way as to facilitate growth and dissemination of knowledge pertaining to everyday life, cultural differences, and intimate self-awareness.

The goal of this international conference is thus to identify and describe new and major intersecting points between the fields of health humanities and literary and cultural studies today in order to offer a baseline for future, richer interdisciplinary research, teaching, and artistic endeavors.

Several factors are pushing for deeper understanding of the literary arts in relation to health humanities today, inasmuch as literature points to the questioning of subjectivity and selfhood in—or with regards to—
language. We can cite overmedication and targeted pharmaceutical advertisement, the redistribution and branding of age-old holistic philosophies into consumer-ready wellness and mindfulness regimens, the quick rise of wearable health technologies, digital phenotyping and medical big data, the cultural proximity to death being quickly replaced by a proximity to end-of-life management, the struggles for personal freedom and equality in the embodiment of gender and sexual fluidity, or the slow retreat of colonial mentalities allowing for the resonance of heterogeneous cultural voices expressing different views on health in the Western world. Everywhere, and increasingly, stories and bodies are coming together in untold configurations. In turn those configurations are creating new experiences of cohabitation, real or imagined, across geographies and within the fabric of societies. We may still be able to hear, read and write those stories. We may equally prove able to address and manage the health of the bodies involved. But separately, both approaches remain quite limited in their scope. They falter when stories and bodies present themselves together in indivisible assemblages of pain or of pleasure, as well as in the helter-skelter swirl of emotions that fear of dying or hope for a cure instill in the face of illness.
We welcome proposals focusing on (but not limited to) the following themes:

● Biometrics, Big Data, and Self-Narratives
● Biotechnologies and/or Pharmacology and the Phenomenology of the Body
● Postcolonial, Indigenous, Decolonial and/or Anti-Racist Health Narratives
● Trans- and Queer Methodologies in Health & Medical Humanities
● Health and the Narratives of Daily / Ordinary Life
● Gender Approaches to Health & Medical Humanities
● Performing Joy, Pain and/or Illness
● Aging and Storytelling
● Vulnerability and Embodiment
● The Healthcare System and the Self
● Interdisciplinary Artistic Approaches to Health & Medical Humanities

We encourage comparative, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary perspectives, and methodologies. Please send your 300-word proposal (in English) along with a short biographical note with your email address and institutional affiliation (100 words) to before July 15, 2019. Panel proposals (of 3 or 4 papers) should include a short introduction to the panel’s topic followed by a 300-word abstract for each paper.

This event is co-organized by:
Dr. Daniel Laforest, University of Alberta
Dr. Eftihia Mihelakis, Brandon University
Dr. Lucille Toth, The Ohio State University

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